These are a series of eighty-five letters written to newspapers in 1787-1788 by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, urging ratification of the Constitution.After a new Constitution, intended to replace the ineffectual Articles of Confederation, had been hammered out at the Philadelphia Convention, it was agreed that it would go into effect when nine of the thirteen states had approved it in ratifying conventions. There ensued a nationwide debate over constitutional principles, and the press was inundated with letters condemning or praising the document, among them these articles, signed “Publius.”The three men—chief among them Hamilton, who wrote about two-thirds of the essays—addressed the objections of opponents, who feared a tyrannical central government that would supersede states’ rights and encroach on individual liberties. All strong nationalists, the essayists argued that, most important, the proposed system would preserve the Union, now in danger of breaking apart, and empower the federal government to act firmly and coherently in the national interest. Conflicting economic and political interests would be reconciled through a representative Congress, whose legislation would be subject to presidential veto and judicial review.
This system of checks and balances and the Constitution’s clear delineation of the powers of the federal government—few, limited, and defined, as Madison put it—would protect states’ rights and, as they saw it, individual rights. The ultimate protection of individual liberties had to wait for later passage of the Bill of Rights, for these men, as their arguments made plain, distrusted what Madison called “the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.” Many of the constitutional provisions they praised were intended precisely to dampen democratic “excesses.”The articles, written in the spirit both of propaganda and of logical argument, probably had little influence on public opinion of the day. Nevertheless, the essays, published in book form as The Federalist in 1788, have through the years been widely read and respected for their masterly analysis and interpretation of the Constitution and the principles upon which the government of the United States was established.
The Reader’s Companion to American History. Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, Editors. Copyright © 1991 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
The Federalist Papers
The Federalist Papers were a series of eighty-five essays urging the citizens of New York to ratify the new United States Constitution. Written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, the essays originally appeared anonymously in New York newspapers in 1787 and 1788 under the pen name "Publius." The Federalist Papers are considered one of the most important sources for interpreting and understanding the original intent of the Constitution.
Library of Congress Web Site | External Web Sites | Selected Bibliography
A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875
This collection contains congressional publications from 1774 to 1875, including debates, bills, laws, and journals.
- Elliot's Debates is a five-volume collection compiled by Jonathan Elliot in the mid-nineteenth century. The volumes remain the best source for materials about the national government's transitional period between the closing of the Constitutional Convention in September 1787 and the opening of the First Federal Congress in March 1789.
- Farrand's Records gathered the documentary records of the Constitutional Convention into four volumes, three of which are included in this online collection, containing the materials necessary to study the workings of the Constitutional Convention. The notes taken at that time by James Madison, and later revised by him, form the largest single block of material other than the official proceedings. The three volumes also include notes and letters by many other participants, as well as the various constitutional plans proposed during the convention.
- The Making of the U.S. Constitution is a special presentation that provides a brief history of the making of the Constitution followed by the text of the Constitution itself.
Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774 to 1789
This collection contains 277 documents relating to the work of Congress and the drafting and ratification of the Constitution.
George Washington Papers
The complete George Washington Papers collection from the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress consists of approximately 65,000 documents.
The Washington Papers include the following references to the Federalist Papers:
- George Washington to Alexander Hamilton, November 10, 1787, "I thank you for the Pamphlet and for the Gazette contained in your letter of the 30th Ult. For the remaining numbers of Publius, I shall acknowledge myself obliged, as I am persuaded the subject will be well handled by the Author."
- George Washington to Alexander Hamilton, August 28, 1788, "As the perusal of the political papers under the signature of Publius has afforded me great satisfaction, I shall certainly consider them as claiming a most distinguished place in my Library."
Search Washington's papers using the word "Publius" to locate additional documents related to the Federalist Papers.
James Madison Papers, 1723 to 1859
James Madison (1751-1836) is one of 23 presidents whose papers are held in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. The Madison Papers consist of approximately 12,000 items.
- James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, August 10, 1788. Partly in Cipher, "I believe I never have yet mentioned to you that publication. It was undertaken last fall by Jay, Hamilton, and myself. The proposal came from the two former. The execution was thrown, by the sickness of Jay, mostly on the two others. Though carried on in concert, the writers are not mutually answerable for all the ideas of each other, there being seldom time for even a perusal of the pieces by any but the writer before they were wanted at the press, and sometimes hardly by the writer himself."
- James Madison to Jacob Gideon, Jr., January 28, 1818, "I send you a Copy of the 1st. Edition of the “Federalist,” with the names of the writers prefixed to their respective numbers."
Search the Madison papers using terms such as "Publius" or "Federalist" to locate additional documents related to this topic.
Thomas Jefferson Papers, 1606 to 1827
The complete Thomas Jefferson Papers from the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress consists of approximately 27,000 documents.
- Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, November 18, 1788, Sent with Two Plans for Funding Foreign Debt, "With respect to the Federalist, the three authors had been named to me. I read it with care, pleasure & improvement, and was satisfied there was nothing in it by one of those hands, & not a great deal by a second. It does the highest honor to the third, as being, in my opinion, the best commentary on the principles of government which ever was written." [transcription]
Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division's First 100 Years
In honor of the Manuscript Division's centennial, its staff has selected for online display approximately ninety representative documents spanning from the fifteenth century to the mid-twentieth century.
American Treasures of the Library of Congress - The Federalist
James Madison's Federalist no. 10 is one of the most important and enduring statements of American political theory. Its reasoned statement explains what an expanding nation might do if it accepted the basic premise of majority rule, a balanced government of three separate branches, and a commitment to balance all the diverse interests through a system of checks and balances.
Creating the United States
This online exhibition offers insights into how the nation’s founding documents were forged and the role that imagination and vision played in the unprecedented creative act of forming a self–governing country. The exhibition includes a section on Creating the United States Constitution that contains images from Thomas Jefferson's copy of the Federalist Papers.
Includes Thomas Jefferson's annotated copy of the Federalist Papers.
The federalist: a collection of essays, written in favour of the new Constitution, as agreed upon by the Federal convention, September 17, 1787, in two volumes. New-York: Printed and sold by J. and A. M'Lean ..., 1788.
December 12, 1745
John Jay, one of the nation's founding fathers, was born on December 12, 1745, to a prominent and wealthy family in the Province of New York.
March 16, 1751
James Madison, "Father of the Constitution" and fourth president of the United States, was born on March 16, 1751.
September 17, 1787
Members of the Constitutional Convention signed the final draft of the Constitution on September 17, 1787.
October 27, 1787
Known as the Federalist Papers, the first in a series of eighty-five essays by "Publius," the pen name of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, appeared in the New York Independent Journal on October 27, 1787.
December 15, 1791
The new United States of America adopted the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, confirming the fundamental rights of its citizens on December 15, 1791.
July 11, 1804
On July 11, 1804, political antagonists and personal enemies Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr met on the heights of Weehawken, New Jersey to settle their longstanding differences with a duel. The participants fired their pistols in close succession. Burr's shot met its target immediately, fatally wounding Hamilton and leading to his death the following day. Burr escaped unharmed.
The Federalist Papers, The Avalon Project at Yale Law School
The Founders' Constitution, University of Chicago Press and the Liberty Fund
Our Documents, Federalist Papers, No. 10 & No. 51, National Archives and Records Administration
Adair, Douglass. "The Authorship of the Disputed Federalist Papers." William & Mary Quarterly 1, no. 2 (April 1944): 97-122.
-----. "The Authorship of the Disputed Federalist Papers: Part II." William & Mary Quarterly 1, no. 3 (July 1944): 235-264.
Cooke, Jacob E., ed. The Federalist. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1961. [Catalog Record] [Full Text]
Dietze, Gottfried. The Federalist: A Classic on Federalism and Free Government. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. [Catalog Record]
Duvall, Edward D. The Federalist Companion: A Guide to Understanding the Federalist Papers. Gilbert, Ariz.: Fremont Valley Books, 2011. [Catalog Record]
Morris, Richard B. Witnesses at the Creation: Hamilton, Madison, Jay, and the Constitution. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1985. [Catalog Record]
Rossiter, Clinton L., ed. The Federalist Papers: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay. New York: Mentor, 1999. [Catalog Record]
Taylor, Quentin P., ed. The Essential Federalist: A New Reading of the Federalist Papers. Madison, Wis.: Madison House, 1998. [Catalog Record]
Ball, Lea. The Federalist--Anti-Federalist Debate over States' Rights: A Primary Source Investigation. New York: Rosen Central Primary Source, 2005. [Catalog Record]